From green hills to rocky cliffs, the Himalayas is one of the few experiences that have stayed with me throughout my peculiar ventures abroad. The eminent mountain ranges extend across five countries: Nepal, Bhutan, India, China, and Pakistan. Having lived in Delhi for four months, Uttarakhand became my go-to get away from the craziness of city living.
Despite what people generally associate with the mountains, my two expeditions were anything but peaceful. Aside from a motorcycle accident, getting lost in the wild, losing our phones (and having it returned) among various other incidents, I lost (and found) my passport in one of the many villages up the hills. Yet, these episodes embedded within me a strange trust for the Himalayas- this naive, optimistic feeling that everything will be alright.
The road to the mountains was in itself a journey. After hopping onto a 9-hour night bus from Delhi to my friend’s village near Nainital, we began a day-long trip into the Himalayas. Dunagiri was our first stop. Originally a 4-hour ride, we got lost after a couple wrong turns and arrived after a 9-hour venture.
A historical region in Uttarakhand, Dunagiri is composed of several villages under the District of Almora. Despite it being well known for the temple of Shakti, my friend insisted on a hidden gem that overlooked the peaks of the Himalayas.
By the time we reached the foot of the hill, the sun has begun to set. With our tent and sleeping bags in hand, we began climbing a mountain that led to Pandukholi, an ashram sitting quietly by the cliffs.
Finding Peace: Pandukholi Ashram
The sky was completely dark when we reached the halfway point. Since we’ve already lost our phones on the road here, there was barely any light sources guiding our footsteps away from the cliff under.
It was horrifying.
3 hours and loads of whining later, we were finally greeted by a beaming form from afar.
It was the long-awaited spiritual haven.
Unlike cinematic ashrams, as portrayed by Hollywood favorites, this place was tucked away in the middle of nowhere. The guru greeted our arrival and immediately asked someone to get us water and cook up some chapatis. There were barely any people on the property-three students, a visitor and his guru, the guru of the ashram and his aid.
That night, we sat by a fire and chatted for some time. After showing us around the property, the guru let us to a field outside the gates to set up a tent.
We spent the next three days meditating, eating homemade meals, and waiting for the fog to clear.
It never did.
Without a question, the second leg of our trip was spent chasing snow peaks- further north up the Himalayas.
Lost in Paradise: Biking through the Himalayas
Chopta is a small region in the Uttarakhand state. Its scenic view is nothing like that offered by Delhi. From vast green spaces and bright blue skies, the district was absolutely breathtaking.
Due to the distance, we spent a couple nights at guest houses along the way. Those in the area clearly don’t see many foreigners. Even myself, a North-Indian looking Asian, got tons of stares from the local people.
Tranquil Haven: Chopta
On the fourth day of our trip into Chopta, we arrived at a village leading to the Chandrashila Peak. After dropping our bike off at a nearby shop, we took on an exhausting, yet breathtaking hike towards the peak.
4,000 meters above sea-level, the trek offered a panoramic view of the Himalaya ranges. It lasted about 3-4 hours, passing camping grounds, donkeys, paved roads, and rocky hills.
After the sunset, we retreated into a beautiful guest house on the mountain. Since the night was still quite foggy, we crossed our fingers and hoped for a clear morning.
The Final Climb: Chandrashila Peak
At 4 am the next day, we began another hike towards the peak.
To be honest, my Cappadocia experience is the only one that can rival this view.
We felt the sun before seeing its pink hues. There was an utter calmness that extended across the entire Himalayan ranges. No birds, no wind- complete silence.
Then, the sky began brightening up. With it, the snow-covered peaks became increasingly visible.
Beams of sun rays started reflecting off the summit, projecting an expanding warm orange tone an arm’s reach away.
We sat on the ice-cold earth, unable to move from such a sight.
After the sun came out, we ventured around the alp, where a little prayer temple sat overlooking the cliffs.
Since I took one of those cheap local buses from Delhi, it was no more than 250 rupees per ride. Mind you, it wasn’t the most comfortable way to travel as the decade-old bus had no A.C, broken windows, and unadjustable seats.
Otherwise, we spent around 6000 rupees ($93) on gas, food, accommodation, and other activities. Included within this, was a 500 rupee donation to the ashram.
- The accommodation was around 300 rupees/night/room. Guest houses may ask for more once they realize you are a foreigner, but I got away with identifying as a North Indian.
- We ate at cheap local shops or cooked vegetables on a home-brought mini gas stove. These places won’t cost more than a couple dollars per meal.
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